May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.
There is a story told of a heavy-weight boxer who was involved in a minor traffic accident. It was one of those insignificant fender-benders that are an inevitable consequence of placing a large number of people with various levels of skill and ability in close proximity while trying to control several tons of metal and assorted other materials moving at high speed. The boxer was unperturbed by the incident and got out of his vehicle to deal with something he thought trivial was would be sorted out in a matter of moments.
The other driver, a short, middle-aged man, took a more serious view of the affair. He was furious and challenged the boxer to put his fists up. Now, as I said, he was a heavy-weight boxer, standing well over six feet tall and weighing in at considerably more than 200-pounds. He was also, as it happens, quite famous. In fact, he had been on television screens all over the world only a few weeks earlier, fighting for the world heavy-weight championship. He hadn't won, but he had managed to send the champion crashing to the canvas at one point. The champion had gotten up clearly shaken and many commentators agreed that had the bell not rung at the moment the fight could well have been his. But the bell had rung, the champion had been allowed time to recover, and so the moment and the fight was lost.
So the boxer was not a man to be lightly challenged to a fight by anyone, much less the small man standing before him.
'Calm down,' the boxer said to him. 'I'm not going to fight you. Don't you know who I am?'
'I know who you are,' said the man fiercely. 'And I'm not afraid of you.'
'Oh come on!' said the boxer. 'If you know who I am, then you know I knocked down the world champion only a few weeks ago. You'd be crazy to try and fight me.'
'That was then and this is now,' said the man. 'let's see how tough you are today!'
Luckily, police intervened and the man was spared having to experience the only proof he would accept that he was living in a fantasy if he thought he was picking a fight he could win – a punch on the nose!
I was reminded of that story while thinking about our Gospel reading today. Jesus has just performed the miracle of the feeding of the 5000. Eager for more free bread, many go looking for him. When they find him Jesus knows perfectly well what they are about and tells them not be so focussed on their bellies, but to work instead on the food that endures for eternal life and that they must believe in him, the Son of Man, the one who was sent by God.
And then they ask him what is, in the circumstances, an extraordinary question. They say : ‘What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing?' Jesus has already at this point in John's Gospel turned water into wine, healed many sick people, shown that he can to all intents in purposes read people's minds, for example by the way he tells the Samaritan women at the well everything about herself the moment he meets her, and has just, as already noted, fed thousands with a few scraps of bread – this last miracle being the very reason that these men are standing there in the first place. And still they ask him for a sign, to do something to prove to them that he is who he says he is and that they should believe in him? How much more proof do they need? They have seen the miracles, they have heard the teaching and still they ask for more?
And yet, of course, we know that there are those whom no evidence will convince – all the witness of Scripture means nothing to them, not even Christ's rising from the dead. Just as nothing would convince that road-rage fuelled motorist that day that he couldn't possibly take on that boxer, that he would have refused to believe it was impossible until he was lying on his back with his nose bleeding, so there are those who will refuse to believe in Jesus until the day he comes again to judge the living and the dead … and that day will be, as we all know, too late.
So I end this morning with the prayer that those whose souls are in danger because of unbelief will have their hearts opened; that instead of demanding more and more evidence that God is real, he loves them, and that he sent his only Son into the world to die for them that they should be saved, they will instead open their eyes to the evidence they have before them, the truth that is contained in the Gospels, so that they may hear the Good news and be saved. Amen